Stephen Gottlieb: What’s So Scary About Government Programs?
Every economist understands that there are some things a capitalist economy won’t do for us. I won’t bore you with the technical reasons, but there are lots of things that depend on government. Trump and his Republican friends assume that calling them socialist will scare you away. Let’s understand that their claim is flawed from the get-go because public health, Armed Forces, police, fire departments and many others are all socialist in that sense. The interesting question is why they are trying to tar the programs they call socialist?
The answer is simple – money for them and their much too rich supporters. If we had no postal service, their rich friends could deliver letters and packages to us at a much higher price. It bothers them that the Postal Service can do it cheaper, but it bothers them even more that their friends don’t get the money. The Postal Service siphons business from commercial carriers of letters and packages.
Why don’t Republicans like Social Security? You could buy yourself a retirement insurance package, except that it would be much more expensive, and it wouldn’t be guaranteed, but friends of Republicans would get the money. Some of us also care that some people who live paycheck to paycheck couldn’t even buy themselves retirement insurance, let alone disability insurance and the other things Social Security covers.
Trump and his Republican allies want to keep downsizing the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission, so drug companies could go to town without federal regulation to protect us. The things they sell us would be cheaper to make if they didn’t have to test them to see if they work. They’d prefer we go back to the era of snake oil. All that means more money for Friends of Trump and Friends of Republicans. That’s corrupt – taking private advantage from stripping government programs that benefit us.
The Weather Service is anathema because private companies could do that. They didn’t, of course. It took national investment to set up all the weather instruments on land, water, in the air, and up in space. But now that the public has made all those investments and dedicated people did it very well, Trump, Republicans and their well-heeled friends want the money they could get from everything the Weather Service created with public funds.
Obamacare is another. The Obama Administration got the insurance companies behind them because Obamacare expanded their market, but Obama’s coalition couldn’t get a public option because there wasn’t anything in a public option for Republicans and their well-heeled friends. Apparently, Republicans would rather that sick people die.
Unemployment insurance gives people a chance to find a decent job, not just whatever unlivable wage they’re offered. If we become serfs as in the Tsar’s Russia or wage-slaves here, it will undercut all our salaries. Guess who that helps?
Free public schools give people a chance. But private owners want to siphon ever more money out of the public system, and to undercut teachers’ pay besides. Quality? You must be joking. Without public schools you’d be subject to the tender mercy of private owners, like the people who tried to learn something from Trump’s fraudulent academy. And many couldn’t afford any education. Uneducated Americans wouldn’t have a chance and would have to accept the most meagre survival wages and the longest hours to serve the crudest bosses. That’s what it’s all about – money and power.
So, when Trump and Republicans attack programs as socialism, understand the fraud behind their message. It’s all for them and their friends. They’re not interested in protecting us or a chance for a good life for ourselves or our kids.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
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